Making an about turn
The Sabarimala logjam may have appeared as only a contentious issue provoking two schools of thought to lock their horns for a considerable period of time. And, even though one had the support of law, the other's agitation prevailed, constantly fuelling the impasse. When the communist government of Kerala (LDF) wanted to implement the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala, devotees motivated by different organisations posed stiff resistance. The consequent rampant agitation drew episodes of protests, pushing the state into unprecedented turmoil. The Supreme Court judgement, pronounced clearly in compliance with the Constitution, upheld the entry of women across age groups into the Sabarimala shrine. In a land governed by law, opposing law is quite obnoxious. But a democratic land allows for dissent and, in this case, the brewing dissent demanded otherwise. Though the Constitutional Bench paved the way for entry of women of all ages, devotees of Lord Ayyappa opined otherwise. Their protests grew stronger, captivating the nation and alarming an imbroglio in the coastal state. At the centre of the protests stood Travancore Devaswom Board (TDB), which runs the Sabarimala shrine. Their disagreement with the verdict, in a way, channelled strength to the devotees whose religious sentiment had been pinched earlier by the Apex Court judgement. TDB's stance to keep Sabarimala secure had motivated these protestors to defend the shrine as if it was a fort being infiltrated by ruthless invaders. Only that the invaders were women of menstrual age prohibited from entering the shrine as per ancient accords. That those who made desperate attempts to utilise the verdict's provision had questionable devotion is another story. TDB's active dissent, in a way, consolidated the opposition fabric, adding to the troubles of the state government. Kerala witnessed a massive human chain organised by the state government to get its statement of implementing the Court's order across to the opposition, in a desperate attempt to curb the ruckus caused over the issue. Months into the standoff, TDB turned over a new leaf on Wednesday and decided to take a U-turn, supporting the Apex Court's verdict. In a surprising discourse, the board, which also comprises state government nominees, told a five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi that it is time we realise that a particular class cannot be discriminated on the ground of "biological attributes". The changed colours sported by the board, for many, was a completely astonishing development. TDB's compliance with the verdict comes as a major boost to resolve the Sabarimala imbroglio. While the SC is scheduled to hear review petitions filed by different organisations, TDB's U-turn seems to have a taste of betrayal amidst ardent Sabarimala devotees. Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, appearing for TDB, told the bench that "Women cannot be excluded from any walk of life on biological attributes… equality is the dominant theme of the Constitution". Sabarimala Karma Samithi threw sharp criticism on the development, citing open betrayal by TDB towards devotees. TDB, which was in favour of review petitions, changed its stance on the issue after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan indicted its president A Padma Kumar, in October, for not complying with the government's implementation of the verdict. Kerala government's decision to oppose review petitions, citing that no ground was made out in any of the petitions seeking review of its September 28, 2018 verdict, also will not be happily embraced by petitioners. BJP leader PS Sreedharan Pillai opined on how the Kerala government's motive to oppose review petitions would bring an end to communist rule in Kerala. Of course, the saffron party is of the opinion that LDF has a vested interest in destroying Sabarimala. LDF has taken a significant step, as it has been doing throughout, to resolve the stretched issue. Coupling it with TDB's recent support garners faith in restoring order, but apprehensions exist in vested outfits creating a ruckus again ahead of the five-day monthly puja. TDB's U-turn also hints at the motive behind the long standoff. It is rather unsettling to note their change of heart which can have drastic ramifications. This also changes the paradigm of the issue, depriving the longstanding argument over which sporadic violence was witnessed. Instability was brewed because TDB was not happy with SC's verdict – but no more. As funny as it sounds, it certainly piques curiosity. The protests were certainly influenced by third parties for their respective political gains. While a list of alternate realities that could have been, had TDB observed early enlightenment, renders the conundrum surrounding Sabarimala useless, the review petitions are still to be heard. TDB's change of plans certainly reinforces the state government's fight to implement the Sabarimala verdict, but the imbroglio is still to be resolved.